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Nordic FAQ - 2 of 7 - NORDEN
Section - 2.2 What makes Nordic countries a unity?

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   From the Viking age onwards, the Nordics have fought each other,
   formed unions with each other and ruled over each other. Sweden ruled
   over Finland for over 600 years, Denmark ruled over southern Sweden
   also for over 600 years (or, alternatively, Sweden has ruled over
   eastern Denmark for the past 300 years) and over Norway for nearly 500
   years, while Norway ruled over Iceland for some 200 years and Denmark
   yet another 500 years, and the list goes on (but Finland hasn't ruled
   over anybody, and is very envious because of that :-> . Unavoidably,
   this has caused some anti-pathies, but it has also made the Nordic
   cultures more uniform.
   
   
   
  2.2.1 Culture
  
   Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland shared a more or less homogenous
   "Viking" culture in the Viking Age (800 - ~1050 CE), and Finland,
   while not strictly speaking a "Viking" country, did have a "Viking
   age" and a culture very close to its western neighbours, and at the
   close of Viking age was united into the Swedish kingdom. Scandinavian
   culture today could be described as a potpourri of this "original"
   culture, medieval German influence, French influence in the centuries
   that followed, and several other smaller sources, not forgetting local
   development and national romantic inventiveness, of course.
   
   A significant factor is also the fact that the Nordic countries never
   had an era of feudalism to speak of; personal freedom is highly valued
   here. One of the expressions of this freedom is the Allemansret /
   Allemansrätt ("Everyman's right") in Norway, Sweden and Finland,
   giving all residents free access to the forests, seas and uncultivated
   land.
   
   The Nordics are rather heavy drinkers, the "vodkabelt" goes right
   through Finland, Sweden and Norway; the Danes are more of a
   beer-drinking nation, but don't say no to a glass of akvavit either.
   Smörgåsbord with pickled herrings and open-faced sandwiches is no rare
   sight. Women are emancipated. Towns are clean and well-functioning
   enough to make a Swiss clocksmith feel at home. And so forth; myths
   and stereotypes about Scandinavia are many. Some of them are, of
   course, less true than others, but their very existence illustrates
   the fact that we do have quite a lot in common.
   
   
   
  2.2.2 Religion
  
   The Germanic pagan religion has left its mark on customs and
   festivals; celebrations with bonfires and maypoles mark the Finnish
   and Swedish midsummer, and the Nordic Christmas bears many
   similarities to the midwinter feast of the Vikings, starting with the
   word for Christmas (sw. Jul, fin. Joulu) which comes from the Old
   Germanic word "hjul", meaning the wheel of the year. Trolls and gnomes
   still inhabit Nordic households, although the once revered and feared
   mythical beings have been reduced to the lowly caste of soft toys.
   
   The Finns and the Sámi ought to have a common set of folklore and old
   relicts of religious traditions, but it is rather hard to find a
   common denominator for Fenno-Ugric traditions. For instance are the
   Sámi the only Fenno-Ugrians where shamans are known. Probably the
   Finns and the northern Germanians have made impressions in both
   directions. In any case: Bears had a central role in myths and rites,
   and beings ruling the nature, Haltia in Finnish, are more central in
   the Finnish and Sámi tradition than among other Nordeners.
   
   The Nordic peoples were converted to Catholicism in the 10th to 12th
   centuries, but the Lutheran reformation embraced in all Nordic
   countries wiped out most of the Catholic customs and memories in the
   course of the 16th century. Having become a stronghold of
   protestantism against Catholics in the south and Greek Orthodox in the
   east had some unifying effect on Scandinavia even though wars between
   the countries kept raging on; religion was, after all, the most
   important basis of one's identity well into the 18th century. The
   Lutheran ideal was to require the common people to be able to read the
   Bible on their own, which had a enormous educating effect on the
   Nordic peoples. This, along with the protestant work ethic, had a
   significant role in the forming of the Scandinavian societies,
   enabling their economic and cultural growth and the pioneering work
   that the Nordics have played in decreasing social inequality. No doubt
   it also shaped the national character of each country to a similar
   direction (a common complaint in Norden: we're such joyless, grey and
   angst-ridden people ---> it's all the Lutheran Church's fault! :->
   
   Even today, all five Nordic countries have a Lutheran state church to
   which a vast majority of the population belongs (there is of course
   full freedom of religion granted by the constitutions of the five
   countries). Paradoxically, this is probably the reason why
   Scandinavians are among the most secular peoples on the face of the
   earth. Despite its seemingly all-pervasive presence in various state
   institutions and the ceremonies guiding the life of the average
   Scandinavian, Lutheranism has in most parts of Scandinavia retreated
   to the fringes of culture and has little meaning to the average
   person. Church attendance is record-low, the liberal morals hardly
   reflect specifically Lutheran ideals, religion is no major issue in
   politics, etc. The official, institutionalized religion offered by the
   state churches has to a large extent vaccinated the Nordics against
   Christian fundamentalism of the American kind.
   
   
   
  2.2.3 Geography
  
   Norway, Sweden and northern Finland form the Scandinavian peninsula
   more than 2'000 kilometers from south to north. Denmark is a peninsula
   stretching out from continental Europe, accompanied with an
   archipelago of large and small islands, while Iceland is situated in
   the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Except for Iceland, the countries
   are situated relatively close to each other, often sharing borders
   with one another. They do not really form a geographical unit, but
   this is rather irrelevant since seas and waterways have historically,
   instead of separating peoples, united them. And we are, after all,
   talking about the best seafarers of ancient Europe.
   
   Finland, Sweden and Norway receive many tourists camping outdoors and
   hiking in the (relatively) unpolluted wilderness, taking advantage of
   the "Allemansret" (the General Right of Public Access) - the ancient
   right to move over land and waters of others, and to pick berries, and
   mushrooms, as long as one doesn't disturb and doesn't cause harm. Some
   tourists even travel by bicycle.
   
   Since the kingdom of Denmark includes also the autonomous area of
   Greenland (area: 2.2 mill. km², pop. 53,000) the area which could be
   regarded as "Norden" is huge.
   
   
   
  2.2.4 Language
  
   Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese are all
   North-Germanic languages developed from the Old Norse spoken in Viking
   age Scandinavia. (Also English is classified as a Germanic language.)
   A Swede, a Dane and a Norwegian can understand each other with varying
   degrees of difficulties, but none of them will fully understand
   Icelandic or Faroese without studying the languages. Finnish is an
   entirely different case, it's a Finno-Ugric language related to
   Estonian and Hungarian. There is, however, a Swedish-speaking minority
   in Finland, which ties it linguistically to Scandinavia. Also, Finnish
   is related to the Sámi languages spoken in Norway, Sweden and Finland
   by the Sámi or Lapps, the aborigines of northern Scandinavia (and the
   Kola peninsula and adjacent lands).
   
    Melodic accent & glottal stop
    
   Norwegian and Swedish except Finland-Swedish belong to the few
   European languages with a melodic accent. (Others are Lithuanian and
   Serbo-Croatian.) The way this melodic accent is expressed vary quite a
   lot between different dialects, but the dichotomy exists everywhere
   having an important role to differentiate between words which
   otherways would have been confused.
   
   Words with one syllable, words stressed on the end and short words
   with an unstressed suffix usually has what could be called "one
   syllable accent" (rarely marked, but then by acute accent). Words
   derived from two-syllable roots usually have an almost equal stress on
   both syllables.
   
   In south Swedish dialects the "one syllable accent" is expressed as a
   falling tone on the first syllable, while "two syllable accent" is
   expressed as a rise and a fall of the tone on the first syllable.
   Questions are expressed by a rising tone on the second syllable.
   
   In most Danish dialects (and some Scanian too) this melody accent has
   been replaced by a glottal stop (stød) in place of the "one syllable
   accents".
   
    Are linguistic definitions of any value?
    
   Maybe not, but nevertheless they show up now and then in the group.
   
   An example:
   
   Dr. R. Rautiu <r.rautiuradu@ic.ac.uk> writes:
   Contemporary Germanists are dividing the North-West Germanic branch in
   a
    1. Continental branch comprising: Swedish, Danish, Bokmål (Norwegian)
    2. Insular branch comprising: Icelandic, Faeroese and sometimes
       Nynorsk (closer to insular than continental linguistic traits),
       some specialists put Nynorsk as a transitional language between
       the continental and the insular groups.
       
   Tor Arntsen <tor@spacetec.no> replies:
   About trying to group Nynorsk and Bokmål to different East/West Nordic
   groups: It's really a red herring as Nynorsk and Bokmål exist as
   written languages only. No one actually speaks Nynorsk for example.
   The same goes for Bokmål.
   
   Some dialects would be "closer" to either one or the other, depending
   on what you end up with if you try to create a "written" form of a
   dialect. Norwegian language has as many dialects as there are cities
   and villages and valleys and fjords, and there is no way to create a
   common written language from that. Bokmål and Nynorsk are just two
   constructed written languages, where Bokmål is something that once
   upon a time came from written Danish, and Nynorsk was constructed from
   south-west Norvegian dialects -- and some personal colouring from the
   constructor (cultural and political).
   
   
   Eugene Holman writes:
   The majority of the traditional inhabitants of Iceland, the Faroe
   Islands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and some regions of western Finland
   speak closely related Germanic languages belonging to the North
   Germanic ( = Scandinavian = Nordic) subgroup. North Germanic is a
   subgrouping within Germanic (formerly called Teutonic). Thus English,
   German, Yiddish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Frisian, Lezebuurjesh, and the now
   extinct Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, Old High German, Gothic,
   Burgundian, Vandal, Longobardian, etc. are all Germanic or Teutonic
   languages ( - but they are not Nordic languages).
   
   The late Einar Haugen, one of the leading authorities on the
   Scandinavian languages, once characterized Norwegian as "Danish spoken
   with a Swedish accent". The essential difference between the three
   Scandinavian languages is that Danish and (Bokmål) Norwegian have a
   long history of shared culture and vocabulary which Swedish lacks,
   while Norwegian and Swedish have many shared features of
   pronunciation, which Danish lacks. Actually, the truth is somewhat
   more complex, since Norwegian and Danish have radically simplified
   their pronunciation and grammar in a way that Swedish has not, but the
   pronunciation of Danish has subsequently been influenced by that of
   German, while Swedish and Norwegian have not.
   

[ the sections above are available at the www-page
  http://www.lysator.liu.se/nordic/scn/faq21.html ]

   
   
   



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